August 30, 2011

Disaster Studies

New college programs are training people to deal with disasters.

Justin: Parts of the East Coast are still getting over a one-two punch of natural disasters. First, an earthquake, then a hurricane just a few days later. They are the kind of events being studied by students across the country in what are called ‘disaster studies programs’. We came here to Tulane University to find out what they are all about.

If a disaster was heading your way, and you had to leave immediately, what would you need to take?

“First aid.”


Justin: For them, it is a drill. But it was real for thousands living along the East Coast, forced by Hurricane Irene to pick up a few belongings and evacuate their homes at a moment’s notice.


“Twenty-five things!”

“A jacket? It’s the middle of hurricane season.”

Justin: The odds of having to evacuate are pretty high for these teens. They are from in and around south Louisiana, where floods, hurricanes and tornadoes are common. Reasons why local groups have teamed up with students from Tulane University’s Disaster Management Program. The result: a crash course on disaster prep designed for teens at this church in Thibodaux, Louisiana.

“One of our greatest assets, in Louisiana particularly, are our churches. So, working with faith-based health ministries are critical partners for us. They’re as important as any other partner you can think of.”

Justin: Dr. Maureen Lichtveld launched Tulane’s disaster studies management program in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. Maureen Lichtveld: It was very clear in those days after Katrina that there was nobody that could really help us, and so we had to help ourselves. So, this is a program about helping people helping themselves.

Justin: Six years ago, Katrina’s more than 130-mile-per-hour winds and high floodwaters cut a path of destruction through Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, leaving more than 1,000 dead and many more homeless.

Hit hard was New Orleans, where Tulane’s campus is based, and some Tulane students’ college plans took a turn.

Student: I was actually in undergrad at Tulane when Katrina hit, and watching what happened in the city and at Tulane really got me thinking I didn’t really want to be on the pre-law track; I wanted to something about disasters. Before Katrina, there wasn’t really anything about preparedness. I mean, everybody said, ‘be prepared, be prepared to evacuate.’ But you never heard how you could get out or what you should have to get out. And I think that’s what really drew me to the program.

Justin: The Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA, finds that disaster management programs are on the rise at colleges and universities like Tulane, up from just about 70 ten years ago, to more than 2-30 now.

Graduates go on to get jobs in various areas, from medicine to mental health to careers in government. As those numbers continue to grow, the hope is that more people like Raenette Johnson will be prepped for disaster, should one come her way.

So what is in her go bag?

Raenette Johnson: Well, my phone, my phone charger, medicine, food, water, my laptop, and I’d have to say a book.

Justin: Alright, guys. Back to you.


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